States impose fresh curbs as daily cases cross 40,000
- Cases rose in the national capital too, which saw 716 new infections, also the highest this year, as experts urged the public to maintain distancing and wear masks.
Maharashtra, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh clamped restrictions on public assembly and gatherings on Friday in an attempt to arrest rising Covid-19 cases in the hot spot states as infections in India surged past the 40,000 mark for the first time this year.
Cases rose in the national capital too, which saw 716 new infections, also the highest this year, as experts urged the public to maintain distancing and wear masks.
Maharashtra, which is the worst hit as a second wave of infections starts in India, ordered all theatres and auditoriums to operate at 50% capacity, and allow no one to enter without masks. The order also barred theatres, auditoriums and halls from hosting religious, social, cultural or political gatherings. All private offices — except health and essential services — will function at 50% capacity. Government office heads can decide on attendance by adhering to all protocols.
“I see lockdown as an option going ahead. But I trust people of the state to cooperate (and follow the COVID-19 norms voluntarily) like the last time,” chief minister Uddhav Thackeray told reporters in Nandurbar. The state recorded 25,681 new cases on Friday, a little under its own single-day record of 25,833 on Thursday.
In Punjab, chief minister Amarinder Singh ordered all educational institutions shut until the end of the month and announced curbs on cinemas and malls.
In the 11 worst-hit Punjab districts, a complete ban was ordered on all social gatherings, except for funerals and weddings, which will be allowed with only 20 people in attendance. This will be enforced from Sunday.
Not more than 10 visitors can be entertained in homes and mask wearing will be compulsory. “We have to be prepared for this second surge. We have to be prepared for a long battle,” Singh said. The situation will be reviewed after two weeks, he added.
Madhya Pradesh announced a complete lockdown every Sunday for the three worst-affected districts — Indore, Bhopal and Jabalpur, where the positivity rate is as high as 5%, said an officer of the home department. A night curfew is already in place in these districts. “The lockdown will also help us to tell people about seriousness of the second Covid-19 wave and create awareness about wearing masks and social distancing,” chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said.
A separate order by the home department said all schools and colleges in these three districts will be closed till March 31. “There will be complete lockdown in these three districts from 10pm Saturday to 6am Monday. Factories and industries will remain operational on Sunday. The movement of people will be allowed for railway station, airport and hospitals. Students will be allowed to appear in competitive exams,” said Rajesh Rajora, additional chief secretary home department.
New infections have been rising the past month across India, marking the start of what is clearly the second wave of infections in the country. Since the peak of the first wave, the seven-day average of cases had dropped to a low 10,988 infections a day for week ending February 11. Since then though, cases have again been rising at an alarming rate. On average, there have been 31,626 new cases every day in the past week – an increase of 188% from the levels on February 11.
Rising cases have forced many states to announce restrictions in the past week. Gujarat has clamped night curfew in Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat and Rajkot, and a number of states — including Karnataka, West Bengal, Bihar and Uttarakhand — need travellers from hot spot states to carry Covid-19 negative certificates.
“We have assurance from the government that there are no imported variant, but given the scale of the rise in cases, the possibility of a local highly transmission variant cannot be ruled out,” said Dr Gagandeep Kang, professor, Christian Medical College, Vellore.
Maharashtra, India’s worst-hit state, has been at the forefront of the rise of the second wave in the country. The western state has contributed roughly 65% of the country’s daily case burden in the past week and the number of active infections in the state has already crossed 178,848.
Punjab, meanwhile, is the only state that has seen a bigger rise from the post-peak low than Maharashtra — the case rate in the state has gone up over 900%. An HT analysis on Thursday showed that Punjab was one of three states – along with Haryana and Madhya Pradesh – that faced the imminent danger of spiraling cases because of a high growth rate of cases and rising positivity rates.
Thackeray appealed to people to get vaccinated without fear. The Union government has assured that there would be no shortage of vaccines, he said.
The state government also warned of heavy penalties if its order is violated.
In Punjab, Singh asked all private and government hospitals to offer hassle-free vaccination services for at least eight hours daily till March 31.There should be no requirement of a separate certificate if an eligible person aged 45 and above brings a medical record regarding co-morbidities, he directed. The directions were given at a review meeting chaired by the CM, in which he took note of the low vaccination numbers in the state.
Dr KK Talwar, who heads Punjab’s expert team on coronavirus, told the chief minister that the surge in cases appeared to be the result of the opening of schools and colleges, with young asymptomatic people appearing to be spreading the virus.
A number of districts, including Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Amritsar and Mohali already have night curfew restrictions.